Increasingly we are seeing a trend away from church membership. People attend church and may even give and be involved in a small group or Sunday School class, but the current culture of the church is that membership is not important. In fact, in some circles it is frowned upon as exclusive or offensive because of requirements.
I’ve been thinking and reading much about this, and I’d like to offer a few observations.
Church membership is biblical.
In Scripture we have clear evidences that the church was distinct from the world, and that people were in the church while others were not—and they knew it. Thabiti Anyabwile, in his book What is a Healthy Church Member?, says that there are three pictures in Scripture that let us know membership is biblical: it had leaders (who were in charge of a specific group of people—the members, Heb. 13:17, 1 Tim. 3:1-13), it practiced discipline (only on members, 1 Cor. 5:9-13, Matthew 18: 15-17), and it had lists and voted (list of widows in 1 Tim. 5:9 and voted in 2 Cor. 2:6).1 Those in the first century certainly knew those who were in the church and those who weren’t.
Church membership is essential to your spiritual walk.
We need one another. We cannot thrive in the Christian faith on our own. That’s why it says in Galatians 6:2 that we are to “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” This was written to a church that was to encourage and strengthen one another so that they would continue in the faith. There is something emboldening about worshiping and sharing and bearing burdens with fellow followers of Christ. For this reason, the writer of Hebrews said that they were “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Heb. 10:25).
Church membership is how we represent Christ.
When Christ ascended into heaven following His resurrection, He left a few followers who would represent Him to the world. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul paints the picture of those who follow Christ as His body, of which He is the head. So here’s the picture: Christ has a body, and people make up the members of the body (1 Cor. 12:12-27). Thom Rainer says that this means that we are all necessary parts of the whole, and that we are different but we still work together.2 This means that our working together and love for one another (1 Cor. 13) is how the world sees Christ. They hear the gospel from us, and they see the gospel in us.
I am proud to be a member of the universal church (Christ’s bride—all the redeemed from all ages), but I am also proud to be a member of this local expression of Christ’s church (Greenbrier FBC). My prayer for you is that you will renew your commitment to being a faithful, loving, contributing member of your church, knowing that your membership serves a profound purpose.
1 Thabiti Anyabwile, What is a Healthy Church Member? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 65-66.
2 Thom Rainer, I am a Church Member (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013), 11-13.
The Southern Baptist Convention will be taking place next week, and I will be attending as a representative of our church. I’m really looking forward to hearing what God is doing across the churches of our convention and among the unreached peoples around the world. A couple weeks ago I came across an article by Trevin Wax that is an excellent breakdown of the SBC. Wax is the managing editor of The Gospel Project at Lifeway Christian Resources. What follows is most of the article, but the entire article can be foundhere.
9 Things You Should Know About Southern Baptists1
1. The Southern Baptist Convention was organized in 1845 and now includes more than 45,000 churches and 16,000,000 members, which makes it the largest Protestant denomination in North America.
2. The “Southern Baptist Convention” is shorthand for all the churches and individuals who identify as Southern Baptist. Technically, however, the Southern Baptist Convention exists for only two days a year, at the annual gathering. The rest of the year, eleven denominational entities carry out the instructions of the messengers to the Convention. Actions by the Convention are nonbinding on local churches because every church is considered autonomous.
3. An individual becomes a Southern Baptist by joining a Southern Baptist church. A church qualifies as Southern Baptist by contributing to the mission causes of the Convention.
4. Theologically, the Convention holds to a consensus statement (Baptist Faith and Message), but this confession of faith is not binding on any church or individual because every Southern Baptist church is autonomous. An individual church may choose to adopt the BF&M or may create their own statement. Faculty at SBC-owned seminaries and missionaries who apply to serve through the various SBC missionary agencies must affirm that their practices, doctrine, and preaching are consistent with the BF&M.
5. The Southern Baptist Convention employs more than 5,000 international missionaries through International Mission Board. These workers are joined by thousands of volunteers to bring the saving message of the Gospel to 1,089 different people groups around the world. Last year, workers with the International Mission Board and their Baptist partners overseas reported 506,019 baptisms and 24,650 new churches worldwide.
6. The Southern Baptist Convention also oversees the work of the North American Mission Board, which exists to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, start New Testament congregations, minister to persons in the name of Christ, and assist churches in the United States and Canada in effectively performing these functions.
7. There are six Southern Baptist seminaries (Southern, Southwestern, Southeastern, New Orleans, Golden Gate, and Midwestern) that currently serve more than 13,000 students by providing theological education.
8. Because every local church is autonomous, ministry philosophy and methodology can differ substantially from church to church. David Dockery has listed seven types of Southern Baptists: fundamentalists, revivalists, traditionalists, orthodox evangelicals, Calvinists, contemporary church practitioners, and culture warriors.
9. Since 1925, Southern Baptist have been partnering together for missions by giving to these causes through the Cooperative Program – a unified giving system that allows churches to pool resources in order to fund mission work and theological education.
1 Online at http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2013/05/21/9-things-you-should-know-about-southern-baptists. Accessed 5/31/13.